Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to address this motion. For me, one of the most profound and distressing events that occurred in Nova Scotia during my 14 years of serving as leader of the New Democratic Party in that province was the Westray disaster, which absolutely avoidably and unnecessarily cost 26 miners their lives and cost their families the loss of loved ones.
I have always taken seriously the request that was made to me by some of the widows of those Westray miners that I, along with every other elected politician in office, pledge to ensure that the fathers of the children of those Westray miners would not have lost their lives in vain because we would move to put in place the necessary legislation, the necessary protection, to ensure that no such disaster could ever occur again in Nova Scotia or anywhere in the country, and this is the subject of the motion that is before us.
I am torn by conflicting emotions as we discuss this motion. On the one hand I am filled with hope, and I think many Canadian workers will be, that health and safety is the subject of debate in the House. That is a very important thing and I want to commend the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for bringing forward this motion and other members of the House who have risen to support the motion that is before us. The needless loss of 26 miners still buried beneath the ground has not been forgotten, and that is a very important message.
As the previous member who spoke indicated, one cannot be unmindful of the chilling news of the death of 80 miners in Ukraine which has occurred in the last few days. Let us not be so smug in the House as to think that the same kind of unsafe conditions, the same kind of neglect by employers and governments cannot repeat itself in Canada. Until we take serious legislative measures to put in place the protections that are necessary, including an enactment in legislation of the sentiment of this motion, this situation can and indeed will occur again.
The disappointing thing at this point in the debate about this very important health and safety topic is that it would appear that it is the intention of the federal Liberal government to never really put this debate into action. The intention of the government is not only to try to forget the lost lives at Westray, but to ignore the simple, horrifying reality across the country that there are workers who continue to be put into unsafe working conditions and the people who put them there remain immune from criminal responsibility.
There will be, no doubt, Liberal members of parliament who will stand in protest and they too will proclaim their concern, their care about Canadian workers, how they hope a disaster like Westray will never again happen. However, until we enact legislation that embodies the spirit of this motion, then such speeches will be little more than empty rhetoric.
Motion No. 79 is just that, it is a motion. It has no legislative implications. Indeed we have seen in the past that this government will from time to time support such motions, only to ignore the issue in its entirety when it comes to enacting legislation to express the intent of the motion.
However, in this case the government will not be allowed to fool the Canadian people so easily because it is our responsibility to ensure that the government is forced to act upon this.
At issue in this motion is recommendation No. 73 of the exhaustive Westray report. That recommendation would establish criminal responsibility for decision makers who knowingly put their workers at undue risk. It is the basis for this motion and the basis for my private member's Bill C-259.
Supporting the motion which is before us would tell Canadian workers that their representatives will stand for them. Supporting Bill C-259 would show Canadian workers that their representatives will stand for them. Unfortunately, the government appears determined to send a very different message.
I bring to the attention of the House where the Liberal government stands today on workplace safety. I will quote from letters written by members of the government in response to my requests for support for Bill C-259. What did the Minister of Labour say? She said that it falls under the jurisdiction of the justice department. The translation of her statement is that worker safety is not the labour minister's problem.
What about the Minister of Justice? She said:
I share your concern that people in Canada should not be able to hold themselves above the law...my officials are giving this recommendation every consideration.
The translation of that statement is “We have had three years to do something about this, but don't hold your breath”.
I think the clincher comes from the Prime Minister's office:
I share your concerns about the Westray Mine explosion...that is why the government has a comprehensive range of programs to promote workplace safety.
The translation of that statement is “Despite everything that the Westray inquiry documented, despite the recommendations coming out of the Westray inquiry, despite the fact that workers continue to be put in unsafe working conditions, there is no real problem. The existing regime does the job”.
If the existing regime did the job, then there would not have been 26 miners' lives lost in the Westray explosion.
I plead with members of the House to recognize that this is not a partisan issue. We all know that every member elected to the House of Commons has constituents who, at this very moment, as we speak about the motion which is before us, are working in unsafe conditions, who are forced to work in unsafe conditions because of the inadequacy of the legislation that exists in the country.
Whether to stand for those working Canadians is not a choice. Standing for those Canadians working in unsafe health and safety conditions is our obligation and I urge every member of the House to vote in support of the motion which is before us.